Sexism and the Glass Ceiling

Sexism and the Glass Ceiling

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Sexism and the Glass Ceiling


Sexism is still in evidence in the workplace and in today's society despite the battle that women are making for themselves.   Sexism is a particular concern for society when considering its effect in the workplace.  Sexism has always been a particular problem in the labor market especially with the formation of capitalism.  In the last half of the 20th century this has been especially highlighted due to the increase of woman entering the labor market.  This aroused the need for legislation for equal opportunity for both sex's to be passed in 1975.  It stated that discrimination of a person's sex whether male or female was unlawful in employment, union membership, education, provision of goods, services, advertisements.


Woman hold a large percentage of the work force in companies but hardly any seems to pertain any of the power. There are many obstacles in the way of woman in careers; women are in the quest for equal pay for both sexes. The pay should be the same for the same jobs, but many companies pay men a higher salary then women for the same job causing sex discrimination. Sex discrimination means that a person gets treated in a less favorable manner because of their sex.


A good example of this is to take two fictional characters, Mr. and Mrs. Jones. The Jones's wanted to go swimming. They get to the swimming pools where they find that Mrs. Jones is charged an discounted price while Mr. Jones has to pay the full price even though they are both the same age. This is because women become pensioners at the age of sixty while men cannot gain the benefits until they are sixty-five.


Sex discrimination is not only present within the older generation but is also evident throughout the entire age range. Before legislation was passed in the 1960's most young girls left school after certain number of years to receive a strong social message that their careers where already setup for them as marriage and motherhood. The only jobs they would be getting were tedious low paid jobs such as a position as a Secretary and be only looking forward to when they would meet a man, have a family and settle down.

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Women now hold 46% of the labor work force, with young women seeing housework more of a part-time rather than a full time job.  This is an enormous social change for the family giving women less dependence on marriages, which are increasingly falling apart day-by-day and a greater command over the increasing area of technology and resources. This also causes what is known as double days for women. They spend their day out in the work world and then have to come home to the household and carry out the everyday chores of a home.


With more women getting jobs, it encourages other women who were reluctant to move into the labor market to do the same and become more career minded.  Although woman now make up 46% of the work force only 3% of woman hold chief executive positions. This has only increased by 2% in the last 20 years. A point to be raised here is that as the ladder of management positions increases, the amount of women in these positions decreases.  This quite clearly means that woman do not hold the status and influence that men do, as their sector of high ranking jobs is so small. 


Thanks to media attention women do have access to careers. In 1980 woman made up 12-14% of professional and managerial jobs. In 1990 the figure had raised to 32% managers or administrators and 40% professionals. On the other hand women seem to fall into different sectors to men, they make up 62% of teachers and Liberians but only 25% of business and financial professionals and shamefully only 5% of engineers and technologists.  Teaching is a qualified position, 90% of primary school teachers and 60% of secondary teachers are women but 50% primary and 80% secondary school heads are men. This is the same right the way across the spectrum.


This segregation of gender in different jobs can be separated into two dimensions, vertical and horizontal.   Vertical segregation is the segregation of gender in the hierarchy of power in a certain job. Women tend to be found at the low end of vertical segregation in professional occupations. Horizontal segregation is the segregation of gender in the spread of different occupations.  Woman are usually found dominating teaching while men dominate engineering. Data from the Euro stat Labor survey shows when woman break horizontal segregation by increasing their presence in a particular occupation, vertical segregation becomes securely established. This is shown by the fact that 3% of all clerks and typists in 1911 were woman. By 1971 the situation had reversed and woman dominated this area.  As soon as the number of woman increased, office work was down graded and became a low paid dead end job. The activities where broken down to suit what was thought as women's abilities.


The Sex Discrimination Act is in power to help woman in a number of ways and lets them into previously closed doors. However due to the fact that most legal institutions are male dominated it is not quite as clear-cut as it may seem on the outside. The law is often interpreted restrictively meaning a woman may have to fight an unequal battle with her employer and even if they come out victorious little compensation is received and she may be victimized at work in the aftermath.


A major need for the discrimination act is to try to help break down the presence of what is known as the glass ceiling. This is where men get promoted and go further up the managerial hierarchy while woman get to a certain position and cannot climb any further. Although they can see the men climbing further up the company they cannot break the glass ceiling them.  Unfortunately some men feel uncomfortable with women being their equals and since men dominate managerial levels they have much more control over peoples careers beneath them.


If men do not realize women as their equals, then women are overlooked for transfer or promotion, find themselves directed into female job areas and are not offered a challenge. Men use strategies to cope with women such as patronizing them, not listening to them seriously, being over protective and shielding them from dangerous situations so they never have the knowledge of how to cope.


The Employment Act 1978 gives women going through pregnancy and child birth the right to have time off with no loss of position. This is only given however to woman who have a career involving full time and continuous employment and stops just 29 weeks after childbirth. Parental leave, flexible hours and care of the child in sickness and health are left for the employer and employee to discuss.   This is a very complex problem because once a child is born it must have the proper care and attention. Nursery provisions for women who want to go back to work are appalling. Only 2% of work places have nursery facilities and the male dominated government seems to think that the problem doesn't exist!  Taking into account that most women would like to have at least one baby, there is going to be a lot of woman in low paid jobs. Even traditional woman's jobs such as nursing do not have a career that can comfortably take on board a woman with her offspring.  Since for most women all this is a bit too much they will most certainly turn to part-time employment, which will be punished by lower grading and pay.


In 1975 the equal pay act came into power. This made it illegal to offer different wages for the same work on the grounds of sex. Men's full time wages over woman's fell drastically. The gap has been narrowing ever since.  The New Earnings Survey shows that in 1980, men's pay stood 40% more on average over women's and in 1992 that gap had narrowed to 25%.  Woman in low paid jobs, where before were paid much less then men now have leveled up to the same wage or sometimes higher. However in highflying jobs there still is a large wage difference. The NES showed that woman's hourly earnings where on an average 70.9% of men's in 1990. The problem being is that since woman go into different areas of work than men it may be very difficult to compare the skills and amount of work they do to claim equal pay.


We can see that even with the law, there is many loop holes that clever employees can seek. This isn't the only thing that stands in the way of woman who wants a career. There are many other obstacles. Society is a very powerful instrument. The society they are in molds people.  It changes the way people think and act.


Woman can almost see what the outcome of the case of sexual discrimination in the workplace will be before even going to court, saving themselves victimization from male counterparts.  From what we have seen it appears that male dominance is to be blamed for women's under achievement in the work place.


However this may be a one sided view. Once a woman gets a job in power she may adopt the 'I had to work hard to get where I am so why shouldn't others' attitude and will discourage other woman from taking responsibility.  Women also tend to be more cautious then men. Most of the time women would only apply for a job it if they fitted the whole job criteria unlike men who applied for it even if they didn't fill half the description.   The other obstacle that woman would seem to have is their own confidence.   Women also use respectful tag lines like "Don't you think?" and "Isn't it?" far more often then men and are unwilling to give work so they overload themselves.   Evidence shows that the effectiveness of introducing the numerous acts of parliament have not been entirely successful on achievement. Trends show that throughout education, females have been directed towards traditional feminine subjects. Lack of fundamental education needed to back up university courses have reflected women's immobility to achieve positions of high statues in the whole range of occupations. Mature woman share this problem as lack of qualifications in appropriate subjects prevents them from achieving powerful positions.


Clearly, it can be seen that women are getting the same wage as men in low paying jobs since the Sexual Discrimination act was passed in 1975 but there is still a long way to go until woman in managerial jobs get an equal wage to there counterparts.  With most woman wanting babies, and leaving full time work to have a child and probably only taking up part-time work after it is born, it gives directors of companies a very bad opinion of women in powerful jobs as they believe that as soon as the woman has worked her way up she will leave the company due to maternity leave and never be able to keep up the same quality of work as before.


Women tend to naturally set obstacles in their own way and it seems that the only way to get a powerful, influential, prestigious job is to never have a baby and are never get married.  Which stereotypical thoughts like this are very unfair to women.  The law is not much use for woman in power as there are so many males above them in any company.  The usefulness of the law can be seen however in the fact of precedent where any previous case of a woman taking a company to court for sexual discrimination or equal pay and winning may be considered in a similar court case.  The glass ceiling is a major obstacle-preventing woman from achieving high status professions.


However since the law has been in power I believe that the glass ceiling is cracking but it's going to take a lot more years to see any kind of extremely noticeable improvements in woman's careers.



International Labour Organization. "Glass Ceiling separates Women From Top Jobs."

Dec. 2001

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "Facts About Pregnancy

Discrimination." Dec. 2001

U.S. Department of Labor. "Earnings Differences Between Women and Men." Dec.


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